Book Reviews Done Quick

I wanted to start this year off with writing long-form book reviews, and I have gotten one under my belt already (Slow Bullets). The problem is, I read a lot faster than I can write, and I’d rather keep knocking out my to-read list than have to stop and pore over a lengthy review before moving on to the next one. I promise that if I have time, I’ll give these guys the full treatment in the future, but for now, here are the snippets that I threw up on my Goodreads page:

The Emperor’s Soul

the emperor's soulA very quick and flowing read, and one filled with a deceptively rich world (no easy feat for a book that I polished off in one sitting!) and intricate laws of magic that capture the imagination. Shai is a delightfully unreliable narrator, and I feel as beguiled and enchanted by her as I’m sure Gaotona did. A solid work of fantasy fiction.

I do have to knock off one star for the Orientalist trappings of the world. While there isn’t anything outright disrespectful in the world, I feel like exotic Orientalism as shorthand for fantasy has been done to death. I don’t feel that The Emperor’s Soul was genuine commentary or presentation of actual Asian cultures. In the post-script Q&A, the author says that his research into Asian cultures was to visit a museum in Taiwan (hmm) and do missionary work in Korea (hmmmmm). Though I read the Q&A only after reading the book, I felt like this explained a lot of the exoticism of the piece.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars

Pirate Utopia

My favorite read of 2017, and my only regret is that I hadn’t read this sooner. Phenomenal world-building, good pulpy rewrites (or reimagining) of real historical events, and all the dieselpunk to last me years. Post-WWI Italy lends itself well to this sort of fantastic non-fantasy writing, and Pirate Utopia does not disappoint with its surging factions, its larger-than-life characters, and its complete disregard for what is real and what is merely possible.

If I were you, I’d skip the lengthy introduction and the character rundown at the start and just get straight to it. I’ve never read Bruce Sterling before but I stand before you now a fresh convert, completely devoted to reading every last one of his works.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars

The Bear and the Nightingale

I enjoyed this beautiful fairy-tale-like story, and found the world both incredibly haunting and gorgeous. I loved the characters and never felt like any of them were over-the-top or cartoonish, though they were all incredibly distinct and had huge room-filling personalities. Vasya is a refreshing take on the tomboyish unladylike protagonist, and I loved reading about all of her hijinks.

My one gripe about the story is that the last third seems to collapse forward in one great rush; the first half to two-thirds was some excellent setting and world-building, but the stakes are only finally realized just before the great battle that ends the book. From the point when Vasya gets spirited away into the forest, the writing seems to be in a great hurry to just be done with it. (I suspect it’s because it culminates in an physical battle, which didn’t really jive with the non-physical “battling” Vasya had been doing until that point.)

Without getting too spoiler-y, the way the battle ends also felt unbelievably rushed, with characters even mentioning how it seemed to come out of nowhere. This is unfortunate because it was immediately preceded by one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching moments of the book, so for the climax to try and top itself with something out of left field was disappointing.

All that said though, I enjoyed the fantastic world and am looking forward to seeing where the sequels take these characters.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars

#iHunt: Mayhem in Movieland

An extremely quick read, I managed to get through it in a morning. This is both a strength of the writing (quick, snappy, modern, easy to parse) and also, unfortunately, a bit of a hindrance (events go by too quickly to carry the weight that similar events did in the previous iHunt book). The narrator also seems to commentate more on the not-Disneyland surroundings and trappings than on her life and the hardships she faces, which was what initially drew me into the previous book. Although I appreciate the commentary and found it insightful and amusing, I couldn’t help but feel that it was less personable than the previous book, and left me feeling like this should have been incorporated into a longer book. All that said, I enjoyed my time in San Jenero as I always have, and am looking forward to seeing what’s next in the series.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars

And that’s a wrap, folks!

My 2017 in books

Goodreads has this cute and also horrifying feature where it will showcase all of the books you read in a given year, plus some other stats (longest/shortest, most/least popular, etc). The main problem is that for 2017, my goal was to read 12 books, and I only barely limped across that pathetically low barrier.

(Incidentally, I had to cheat a bit. Partway through the year, I was convinced that 12 was shooting for the stars and so changed it to 10 to be more practical. Then midway through December I realized even that would mean failure, so I revised it to 9. Only after I started digging hard into novellas was I able to jump back up to 12, my original goal.)

So, 2017 was not great for reading. But hey, I guess it was better than how I did for 2016 and 2015 with five books each… yyyeah.

The thing that ended up saving me by a hair was a Humble Bundle book deal that I got on a whim a couple of months ago, and got a bunch of Tachyon eBooks for a few dollars. I’ve already cleared a couple of them (Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, which I’ve reviewed on Goodreads). I’m also currently on Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling, which I should have knocked out sometime either today or tomorrow.

I’m thinking of rewriting my previous two reviews to be longer and, well, better, and then reposting them here. Ideally I’d like to do long-form reviews that are more than just “this book was good mmkay” but then again I also don’t want to put up additional hurdles for myself when really my goal is just to read more. HMM.